From the end of the season, a 3-2 state play-in loss to Putnam on May 19, a handful of baseball players from The Dalles High School were still active for summer and fall ball and were also in the cages over the winter getting extra swings in.
That preparation was geared toward making a 2018 postseason run.
“The extra reps will really make a difference for us on the field when you are playing,” said senior Spencer Honald, who played in Arizona for the Under Armour Team One squad last October after missing the final few games of the regular season with a broken ankle. “I know that experience helped me build up my confidence. When you have players that want to keep playing, it sets a good example. I think it will go a long way toward our success this season.”
Under Hall of Fame coach Steve Sugg, The Dalles baseball team won 10 games, finished ranked in the top-25 and clinched a state play-in berth during the 2017 campaign.
From 2016 to 2017, the Riverhawks also scored 48 more runs, jumping from 105 to 153, with a team batting average of .303.
Most of those numbers were due in part to the contributions of graduated seniors and all-league recipients, John Miller, Dawson Hoffman and Dan Peters.
Not to worry, however, The Dalles has returning all-league standouts Jose Gonzalez, Jordan Wetmore and Henry Lee ready to take charge on both offense and defense.
Gonzalez finished his junior season as the everyday centerfielder and he scored 16 runs, hit a team-high two triples, drove in 16 runs, had a batting average of .357, an on-base percentage of .425, a slugging percentage of .581 and a .438 average with runners in scoring position.
Lee hammered a team-high three home runs, as part of his 17 hits in 62 official at-bats with a team-high 16 hit by pitches, 13 walks, and four sacrifices for a batting average of .274 overall.
When on the bases, Lee scored 13 runs, tallied seven hits with runners in scoring position, and posted a .500 on-base average and a .468 slugging percentage.
On the mound, Wetmore had a 2-3 record a team-high 44 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings pitched for an earned run average of 5.21.
He allowed 48 hits, walked 39 and surrendered 49 runs, 33 earned, while facing 232 batters.
“I can’t wait to get the season started,” Wetmore said. “There is no other team I would rather be with. We are committed to each other and we know we have the potential to do big things.”
Joining Gonzalez, Honald, Wetmore and Lee on the varsity squad are Zach Anderson, Michael Armstrong, Kristos Kiser, Gabe Helseth, Mac Abbas, Baily Hajicek, Ben Nelson, Ben Schanno, Josh Johnson, along with returning sophomores, Dalles Seufalemua and Dominic Smith.
“We have a good core group of kids that want to win. They have come in focused and ready to play well,” Sugg said. “We are still young in some areas, but I think we have a good amount of depth and skill in those guys to step right in and contribute.”
On a team that scored 153 runs in 27 contests, Sugg said he wants to work more on manufacturing runs and creating more chances with better hitting to all fields.
Offensive support will be critical, especially for a pitching staff like Anderson, Armstrong, Smith, Honald and Nelson, who can throw a few innings.
“We still don’t have that dominant horse on the mound, so I am thinking we will go with a committee approach,” Sugg said. “We can mix it up with different arms to keep the other team guessing a little bit and it will be up to me and the coaching staff to feel things out to determine when to make those changes.”
When Columbia River Conference action starts on April 14 at home versus Pendleton, Seufalemua feels the Riverhawks can play their way into a No. 2 or 3 seed and another postseason berth.
Emphasis on the fundamentals is a big factor and players need to be hitting on all cylinders in the big moments.
“League is going to be tough. Hood River, Pendleton and Hermiston are all great teams, but I believe we can be there at the end of the season,” Seufalemua said. “If we are going to be there, we need to play better and stay on top of our game. We might win or lose games, but we can’t hang our heads, we need to keep firing out to get where want to go.”
As one of the seniors, Honald called upon his fellow seniors to take ownership in the program with better leadership on a roster of 15, most of them underclassmen.
“We don’t have a lot of loud players, but we have players that can be good leaders,” Honald said. “It helps that we all know each other. We have a great team connection. The chemistry is a lot greater than any other team that I have previously played on.”
TD played at Reynolds on Monday, and then hosts Gresham at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 14 at Quinton Street Ballpark.